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E.B. White: Death of a Pig, Birth of a Classic Children’s Novel?

You know, of course, that E.B. White wrote classic children’s novels like Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swan. As a child I enjoyed Charlotte’s Web quite a lot. In my favorites it ranked just above Are You There God it’s Me Margaret and below The Chronicles of Narnia (everything ranked below Narnia until I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn). But I’ve recently discovered E.B White’s glorious essays, and they rank very closely to C.S. Lewis essays in my opinion.

E.B. WhiteOne of White’s essays is titled “Death of a Pig“, which was published in the January 1948 edition of the Atlantic Monthly

It’s a plain-speaking tale of a sick pig and how White tried, in vain, to help the pig recover over the course of many days.  The writing is funny and poignant at the same time.  The style is reminiscent of Lewis.  The two shared a droll sense of humor and an assumption that their readers shared their intelligence.  White and Lewis were contemporaries (born a year apart) and I found myself wondering if they ever met. I couldn’t find the information on Google so I assume not.  The essay itself is very touching, and it really conveys how something ordinary, like an ailing farm animal, can cause profound emotions and spur life evaluations.

I’ve read that White insists that Charlotte’s Web wasn’t inspired by the sick pig incident. Now, I’m not calling him a liar, but I find it hard to fathom that some little part of his subconscious didn’t have his old, sick pig in mind as he wrote about the porcine hero, Wilbur, who received a most remarkable pardon from an almost certain death sentence. One of the greatest benefits of being a writer is giving readers more satisfying endings than real life usually provides.

K…